BRICS - a global rival or a crumbling world order?

by Alex Rogers, Consultant

BRICS, the rallying organisation built out of largely authoritarian regimes aimed at moving the world away from American dominance, has just added some new members. Joining the roll call of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, further reinforcing the dividing line between Western Blocs like NATO and the Global South.

But how effective is this group and what are the realistic chances that they will become the dominant force in any future global order? In short, not very much. Considering domestically some members of this club are under international financial sanctions, conducting an illegal war, economically stagnant or accused of supplying terrorists; the American rivals don’t seem to have their own house in order to challenge any economic or global dominancy.

However, these countries still represent over half of the global population and include the world’s largest democracy in India, the world’s workhouse in China and two very resource heavy countries in Russia and Brazil. There is serious potential that if these countries align their thinking and strategy they could, in the long run, become both a regional and global challenger to American hegemony.

Part of their current issue is that their desire to see the removal of the US Dollar as the world’s unofficial currency of global reserves is one of their only unifying objectives. Besides that, many of the BRICS countries have little else in common. The Saudi-Iranian relations have only just been restored to any resemblance of cordiality whilst the Chino-Indo border has seen brutal hand to hand fighting between Indian and Chinese border guards in recent years. This hardly gives the impression it’s sunshine and rainbows at BRICS annual meetings.  

To compound this turmoil, Argentina has also withdrawn their own application to join BRICS at the 11th hour, citing their own economic situation in part for the reason of withdrawal. This could be a sign of Argentinian neutrality in global power plays or, more likely, a new direction for Argentina towards isolationism from President Javier Milei.

Economically, BRICS has long floated the idea of their own central currency. However, this still doesn’t seem to be any closer to fruition than it was a decade ago. Whilst some big financial hitters like Saudi Arabia joining may increase the chances, each BRICS member’s domestic economy will likely prevent such a gamble. Even China has seen a period of stagnation with their own growth slowing down, and although they still view BRICS as a powerful tool to support their dominant commercial influence to leverage diplomacy, creating a shared currency with those at war or funding terrorism may not help their domestic case.

There is a growing narrative from those concerned about the rise of BRICS that it is being used as a vehicle to unilaterally dismantle the established western world order. This is largely being done through engaging with developing countries within the global south, and particularly Africa. Here, Russia is making ground by building security architecture, China is making ground with its ‘belt and road’ initiative, all in return for economic benefit or guarantees. As a result, some African nations have taken a soft or ambivalent approach to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, creating new fissures across global lines of influence as the unilateral condemnation America sought never materialised.

Internationally, the effect of BRICS members’ foreign policies has raised serious questions. Countries sceptical of BRICS members are increasingly reliant on American support, as they remain the only country with a global geopolitical influence. The EU and NATO allies are once again seeking the comfort of American backing following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, something Trump has recently thrown into serious doubt.

Countries such as Australia are partnering in initiatives like AUKUS in the face of an authoritarian China and many in the Global South are looking to the US to protect their shipping as the Iran-backed Houthi rebels continue to disrupt key trade routes. This ‘sabre flashing’ is showing glimmers of BRICS’ military potential but is simultaneously encouraging those alarmed at these actions into the arms of the very competitor they wish to overtake.

The future of these trading blocs though will not be fought with land invasions or rebel alliances but through the mediums of technologies outside Earth’s atmosphere. Supremacy in this space has yet to be determined and here is where BRICS could find a space to dominate. Unlike military hegemonies, this will be determined by private technologies and actors often outside of government remits. If BRICS pull together then America and NATO will be challenged in a way not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, this may mean the starting gun for a new cold war where technology dominates, and space becomes the new frontier.

For now, BRICS remains a dog with a bark but less of a bite. Whether they have fully grown remains to be seen. America has an opportunity to influence this but with polls posing towards Trump and a return to isolationism, it is likely that BRICS might have the time to find its feet as America turns inward.

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